What is stalking?
Stalking or harassment can be obsessive or repeated behaviour that is unwanted by the victim. It is not always about long-term relationships. Stalkers can include estranged husbands, ex-boyfriends, a one-time date or an unwanted suitor.
The behaviours may seem normal and ordinary; however, when they are repeated over time they can be menacing and cause alarm and distress to the victim.
It may start with ‘petty or trivial’ incidents, for example repeatedly being sent texts or emails, phone calls, being followed or sent unwanted ‘presents’, but it can escalate.
There are four types of stalkers.
The ‘rejected’ stalker
- Eighty per cent of victims know their stalker and the most common is the ‘ex-intimate rejected’ stalker. These perpetrators have been in a previous relationship, usually controlling and abusive in nature, with the victim. On separation they either want to reconcile, exact revenge, or a fluctuating mixture of both.
- This type of stalker is relatively rare, often mentally ill and believes the victim is in love with them.
- A challenge of managing these cases is the lack of motivation for treatment. They do not see themselves as ill but blessed by a romantic personality, although they convince themselves it is blighted by the slow response of their target, or interference by others
The ‘grudge’ stalker
- These stalkers are relatively common and can overlap with the ‘rejected’ stalker. They tend to have a non-intimate relationship with the victim, for example a co-worker, neighbour, or employer. They believe they have been a victim of an injustice and are motivated by retribution.
The ‘love obsessional’ stalker
- These stalkers are also relatively common and tend to be a casual acquaintance or isolated ‘loner’. They desire a relationship with the victim and persist in their want for a relationship oblivious to the victim’s reactions.
How to identify stalkers?
Certain questions or behaviours might seem casual at first, but can be controlling and even abusive. If a question makes you feel uncomfortable, pay attention to your feelings, and to what the underlying behaviour might say.
The ‘Friendly Question’ that’s not so friendly
Pay attention to ‘casual questions’ from new dating interests. If you are busy one night with your friends (or another date, or anything else that’s your personal business), you don’t owe him or her a detailed rundown of who you were with, what you did, who else was there or any other information they aren’t entitled to at the early stages of a relationship (or maybe ever).
“Who was there?” It’s not intrusive for a new friend to ask, “I hope you had a good time?” when you’re busy elsewhere. But it can be a warning sign if they probe for more details, either before or after your event.
Once you’re in a committed relationship, you may jointly choose to share details with each other about where you are and who you’re with, as a way to show respect and to build trust. But if these questions come up in the early stages, beware.
“I thought you logged off the site, but I noticed you were still online?” If you use social sites or online dating services, other users can often tell when you’re ‘online.’ If you have met someone who ‘notices’ when you are online, pay attention to how it makes you feel and examine whether it might be stalking behaviour.
If you find yourself worried about what they might think when you go online to answer messages or communicate with other friends, recognise that you’ve begun to adapt your own behaviours to their questions.
Ask yourself: Is this person a stalker?
“What are you doing Saturday night?” This is phrased differently than the reasonable question of, “Are you free on Saturday night?” The question itself is invasive. If you’d rather not see this person, or if you’re busy that night, practice saying, “I have plans” when you hear this type of question.
“Doing what?” You’ve already said you’re busy that night, and the person comes back with “Doing what?” Big Red Flag!!! It is none of their business! Even though the natural flow of a conversation is to answer a question, some questions don’t deserve an answer. You may be planning to spend an evening alone, but it’s none of their business. Notice that each of the above examples included questions. Why is that important? Questions elicit a response, so they engage you in a discussion. It’s normal to automatically answer someone when they ask a question, but with manipulators and stalkers, you need to be more guarded.
What to do when you’re stalked
- Women must start using technology to protect themselves — instantly click a picture of the stalker, take a screen grab of the messages, post them on social media.
- Save the local police station’s number on your mobile. If you sense someone following you, call someone and tell them your current location, or at least pretend to, loudly enough for the stalker to hear.
- Make noise if someone tries to forcefully touch you, approaches you and passes lewd remarks. Get as many people as you can to support you, use the crowd as a weapon of self-protection.
The author is a Mumbai based psychiatrist.